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Migraines Can Mean More Than Just Headaches

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 18, 2000 -- For those who push through the day despite migraines, it's not news that these sometimes severe headaches can seriously affect a person's quality of life, day-to-day functioning, and state of mind.

Now, two new studies in the journal Neurology map out -- for the first time -- the full toll that migraine can take on a sufferer's life.

The researchers say that other chronic conditions -- such as asthma, back pain, and depression -- often also plague migraine sufferers and should be treated as well. The studies point up the need for doctors to ask more questions, to talk to patients about life-affecting issues beyond the headache. With improved medications that have become available in the last few years, migraine is more treatable than ever before, the researchers emphasize.

The first study found that migraine sufferers had "significantly diminished functioning and well-being, compared with those who didn't suffer migraines," author Lenore J. Launer, PhD, chief of neuroepidemiology at the National Institutes of Aging, tells WebMD. And the more migraine attacks a person had, the worse his or her quality of life.

Launer's study, conducted in the U.S. and the Netherlands, focused on 620 men and women suffering from migraines. The researchers surveyed these patients by telephone to assess their quality of life during a migraine, asking about their physical functioning (such as going to work, cooking, shopping), social functioning, emotional well-being, general mood, pain, energy level, and overall health.

To put the data into perspective, Launer compared the migraine sufferers' quality of life with that of people suffering from asthma and chronic musculoskeletal pain. These conditions share some characteristics with migraine -- the episodic attacks of asthma, and the debilitating nature of chronic back pain.

Launer found that people with migraines were significantly more likely to also have asthma and chronic back pain -- which created a worse quality of life than migraines alone.

People with migraines "may need other services or programs to help them get through the day," Launer tells WebMD. Doctors should be asking their migraine patients about other aspects of their lives, she adds: "They need to treat more than just the headache; they should investigate how people's daily lives are going. For many people, having a migraine means they have to simply stop functioning in their daily activities."

Launer also uncovered another common problem. A full 54% of subjects in her study did not have a diagnosis of migraine from a physician, she tells WebMD. "Many people are still not seeking treatment when there's a whole set of new drugs available," she says.

Another study finds a "highly significant link" between depression and migraine, says author Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

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